Manchester United’s 0-0 draw against Crystal Palace wasn’t as bad as it felt to the fans inside Old Trafford on Saturday afternoon. But, if that’s the best reaction the team could come up with following the derby defeat, it was indicative of the situation the club is in under the management of Jose Mourinho.
After a bright start, United were second-best for much of the game and in the end could be grateful that Palace were wasteful with the numerous scoring opportunities they were presented.
David de Gea had to pull off a couple of top saves too, while the busiest Wayne Hennessey appeared to get at the opposite end was when inventing new ways to waste time.
After the game, Mourinho bemoaned the lack of “aggression” and “intensity” from his players. But whose fault is it that those two things were lacking? The manager for not instilling this in them or the players for not following instructions?
Still, it’s easier to replace a manager than a whole squad of players, so after the final whistle, which saw the fans inside Old Trafford roundly boo, social media came alive with supporters calling for the manager to be sacked.
While many were insistent that any manager would be better than Mourinho and that it couldn’t get any worse than this, suggestions for realistic replacements weren’t as forthcoming.
One suggestion was to appoint from within the club and have one or a combination of Nicky Butt, Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna in charge. Carrick and McKenna currently work with the first team and Butt has a good understanding of the academy players on the rise, so that comes with its benefits.
Many supporters are desperate to see Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes given a go in the first team. Some even want the same for Mason Greenwood, following his ridiculously impressive scoring record for the U-18s. They want Axel Tuanzebe, who has impressed at Aston Villa, and Tim Fosu-Mensah to return from their loan clubs and solve the problems in United’s defence.
That won’t happen with Mourinho in the dugout but there would be greater chance of the academy players being given a go if Butt, McKenna or Carrick were in charge. Then again, maybe that’s for the best: there’s nothing to suggest that those players are the answers to this moment’s problems, regardless of how well they might perform at a level that is not the Premier League.
Ryan Giggs has also been mentioned for this reason too and is another fairly big gamble. But aside from the risk, he won’t leave the Wales job after 10 months for a club that twice had the opportunity to appoint him and twice overlooked him.
Eddie Howe‘s name was mentioned a few times, as a young English manager who has impressed at Bournemouth, with the hope he could be what Sir Alex Ferguson had hoped David Moyes would be. In his 10 year managerial career, he’s yet to win a trophy, but has overseen Bournemouth’s incredible rise from League 2 to the Premier League.
Still, even if you look past his lack of silverware and experience of managing world-class players (and the egos that come with them), it’s hard to imagine in which universe Bournemouth would allow their manager to leave just a third of the way through the season.
No amount of money would be worth releasing him, and given Ed Woodward and the Glazers would rather extend Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia’s contracts than sign the quality full-backs the team is crying out for, it’s unlikely that United would stump up the cash for Howe. And the same applies for Mauricio Pochettino.
However, there are obviously managers without a current club who could potentially do a better job than Mourinho. The most commonly mentioned names in this category are Zinedine Zidane and Leonardo Jardim. The former won three Champions League titles on the bounce at Real Madrid, as well as the La Liga title, while the latter guided Monaco to their first league title win in almost two decades, as well as creating arguably the most entertaining Champions League team in the campaign a couple of seasons ago when they reached the semi-finals.
Both managers enjoyed huge success in a short period of time, but Zidane bowed out after finishing 17 points behind Barcelona, while Jardim was sacked a few months in to this season with Monaco in the relegation zone.
They could be a revelation at United but they are still both a gamble. More importantly, why would either take on the job now? The chances of them being able to turn United’s current position around at this stage of the season is fairly slim. Even if they were open to the idea of replacing Mourinho, there would be little sense for either of them to do it now and not in the summer.
Antonio Conte has also been mentioned but, like the two above, he’s not desperate for work, knowing he could have the offer of a good job at United or elsewhere in the summer. He turned down Real Madrid last month and apparently wants this year off football. There are also reports suggesting contractual ties with Chelsea mean he can’t take up post at a Premier League club this season anyway. And if Mourinho’s brand of football is a turn off for United supporters, why would they want Conte?
Fans obviously can’t see into the future, so predictions over what would happen if the club sacked Mourinho and changed direction will differ depending on their stance on the manager.
All can likely agree that it’s not going to end well for Mourinho and that, whatever happens, he will not be in charge next season. The players show up one week and not the next, suggesting all is not well behind the scenes. It’s hard to imagine that Mourinho will be able to turn this around and that, if he lasts until May, he will end the season on a high.
Yet the assumption from some is that any other scenario couldn’t possibly be any worse than this, and that quite simply isn’t true.
Just like fans couldn’t have come close to imagining the horrors they would see thanks to Moyes after he inherited the champions of England, they can’t appreciate how they would feel if the club put a novice in charge for six months and watched United fall in to the bottom half of the table and closer to the relegation zone.
Having just ended Juventus’ unbeaten run, they can’t imagine someone with no managerial experience overseeing a battering in Europe on levels they have never seen before. It can’t get worse than this? Wrong. It could get much worse.
Rather than having further disruption and appoint someone to plug the gap until the end of the season, United should stick with Mourinho and start making serious plans for the future.
How can Woodward stay in his post when his tenure has coincided with United’s worst league finishes in decades, under three managers who have all failed to do what they were supposed to? How can United persist in having no long-term plan when it comes to transfers thanks to the absence of a director of football?
These issues are far more pressing than Mourinho.
He finished second last season – something Jurgen Klopp has failed to achieve despite being at Liverpool for a season longer – and won two trophies the year before that. Again, something the likes of Klopp and Pochettino have only dreamed about since moving to England.
There won’t be the fairytale ending where Mourinho brings home the league title and then rides off into the sunset in the direction of Madrid, where Real’s fans are begging for him to go back.
But the grass isn’t always greener and sacking Mourinho now would likely prove that. So sit tight, wish the campaign away, hope for some results in the big games, and demand that the club does a better job this time when they go back to the drawing board in the summer.